Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest.
By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government has, “for the most part”, met its obligation to pay government workers the $1,400 sum promised to them by the end of the year, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest said yesterday.
Mr Turnquest, in an interview with The Tribune, said most civil servants have been “settled” with their payments. He said while there may be a “few stragglers here and there”, the government is “working those out”.
Meanwhile, Mr Turnquest could not give any indication as to what the new proposed minimum wage would be, much less a date when the Minnis administration would make an announcement on the amount. The finance minister explained that the government hasn’t progressed those discussions to that point, and would need to further dialogue with the private sector and the labour movement.
However, Mr Turnquest insisted that the government does not want to risk causing a retraction in employment nor stunt the growth of the economy in raising the minimum wage.
“So we have to weigh out all of these things and ensure that when we come, we come with a fact-based position that we can defend and that the economy can support,” he said.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis revealed that elevated wages for government workers were on the way with a minimum wage increase on the horizon and $1,400 lump sum payment by the end of the month. Dr Minnis told reporters that immigration, customs, police and defence force officers, as well as teachers, doctors and nurses from the Public Hospitals Authority were due to receive the lump sum payment in their pay cheque.
However, when asked if there are any plans to increase the minimum wage in the private sector, Dr Minnis said that area’s minimum wage could not be increased without more consideration.
Shortly after Dr Minnis’ announcement, Labour Director John Pinder said the government is looking to raise the minimum wage in the public sector to at least $300 a week. However, Tribune Business later reported how National Tripartite Council Vice-Chairman Peter Goudie said he has “no clue” where Mr Pinder’s assertions about a $300 weekly minimum wage originated from.
When questioned on the issue on the sidelines of the Boxing Day Junkanoo parade however, Mr Turnquest said: “We haven’t progressed those discussions to the point where we can give a date or what it (a new minimum wage) might look like. Of course that’s going to be a conversation that’s going to be had between the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, the labour unions, to see what is a reasonable thing, to see what we can afford from a governmental point of view and what that may mean to the economy as we look out.
“Because what we don’t want to do is to increase the minimum wage and then cause a retraction in employment or to stunt the growth of the economy. So we have to weigh out all of these things and ensure that when we come, we come with a fact based position that we can defend and that the economy can support.”
Concerning the lump sum payment, Mr Turnquest explained: “Most people have been settled in respect of that lump sum payment. There might be a few stragglers here and there for whatever reason, and we’re working those out, but for the most part, the commitment has been met.”
He added: “Of course we couldn’t afford to give everybody in terms of the contract workers who are on a contract, because they operate on a different scale.
“And so we believe that we’ve covered as many public servants that we could, within the budget that we set for ourselves.”
The Tribune understands that some junior doctors, some nurses and other health staff were not paid their $1,400 lump sum up to Christmas Eve, but the Public Hospitals Authority confirmed that they are expected to be compensated before the end of 2019.
PHA Deputy Managing Director Lyrone Burrows said officials have sent the information for payment to the Ministry of Finance to be processed not only for junior doctors but for various nurses and other health staff.